Monday, August 3, 2020

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Generational compassion

Compassion may once have served community here as bone-deep wisdom, a lived experience that helped younger generations survive. It may have been understood that the words of elders could guide and protect when listened to and applied correctly. Younger members of family could inspire insight that everyone could appreciate, also effectively assisting with the family’s survival.

This week may find your home filled with family. You may be contacting loved ones to see how they are, connecting with them on the phone. Experiences any member of the family had may be shared, listened to and/or discussed. Challenges survived may be part of stories shared, and support and/or feedback may come.

With each generation, experiences change greatly, challenges and solutions shift.

Often when listening to a loved one’s story, your own memories of similar experiences come to mind. It is part of the effort to understand what someone else is going through.

Maybe one of the younger ones brings a story about an argument on the school bus last week. As she recalls details, her feelings about it are plain on her face, come through in her voice. Seeing and hearing this, you may recall a time when someone bigger than you demanded your seat. As you react to the child’s feelings and your own, compassion is in the works.

The dictionary defines compassion as “sharing in the suffering of others.”

How you choose to approach such relationships is up to you. How you choose to handle your reaction to stories shared is up to you.

Recalling a memory in the effort to help loved ones, shows understanding about what they are going through, and can bring pain.

With the child’s experience on the school bus, you might choose to tell her your story right away, and then walk through the steps of how you survived it, and expect the child to figure out her next steps based on your experience.

Or you can choose to silently note how you solved your challenge, and then ask the child a question meant to help her figure out a solution for herself. Taking this approach may help a child adapt and use what resources are available in a good way.

We are all connected, but much pain is allowed to perpetuate in our current version of civilization. In this generation there are many ways to remain isolated. Even as we sit among each other, phones may be out, computers may be on, and we find ourselves half-listening to each other and half-connecting to people online.

This multi-tasking way of living has become regular in many homes. To those of us who did not grow up with a phone in our hands or keyboard at our fingertips, this can feel like some are ignoring the others, choosing not to be fully present.

In some ways this is true, and the online-part of this generation has been shaping our lives, sometimes in good ways, sometimes in bad ways. For many, the reason for using these devices began with the convenience of staying connected to family.

It can be tempting to share our painful experiences with loved ones and expect them to know what to do with that knowledge, without considering the differences of generations, of how differently others’ reactions may be from our own in similar situations.

We can share challenging experiences, and loved ones may react in ways we don’t expect. We may be causing frustration when what we seek is to raise awareness. Apathy–or lack of concern–can be the reaction we feel we get, due to the often overwhelming amount of information people can encounter now daily.

Long before the term compassion was used in Lakota culture, living compassionately was a value widely held. The people survived many experiences together, suffered many losses together, and treated each other with maybe more understanding than is possible in our present time.

Compassion was not considered a traditional value when wisdom, fortitude, honesty and generosity were defined. Compassion was considered a part of who people were, a part of co-existing closely and being aware of that necessary closeness.

Each generation has lessons to be learned, challenges to overcome, resources available to address them.

Compassion can be more than sharing in the suffering of others–it can be a big part of healing together.

Healing through compassion comes as we listen to the experiences of loved ones and consider what we know. Then we can seek to understand our family members better by asking them questions based on our experience, with the intention of helping them find their course of action now. In this way we can adjust to new challenges together, and learn from not only our own, but each other’s experiences.